With college basketball season a week away and the NBA back in action, here we are, circling the draft wagons once again and hedging our bets as best we can before the games get started. There’s a general industry-wide lack of confidence in the talent level at the very top of this draft class, and the race for the No. 1 pick remains wide open. As always, there’s going to be value on the board at various junctures of the draft, but as we head into the season, there’s no surefire star-in-waiting. There remain several intriguing high-lottery candidates, with the possibility of early-season surprises shaking things up over the next several weeks.
Although the trepidation surrounding the top spot is understandable, with no player having aggressively laid claim, Georgia guard Anthony Edwards opens the season at No. 1 on the mock draft, offering tangible upside and bankable athletic ability as a potential lead shot-creator, though he has a long way to go to reach that upside. James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball follow him, two players with considerable potential, but who also come with questions attached for different reasons. This is a base assessment of where things stand as the season begins.
As always, our mock predicts what the upcoming draft might look like were it to take place on a given day. This is not a definitive ranking of prospects, and it’s hard to account for team needs so far in advance, so think of it more as an informed, ballpark assessment of each player’s potential draft range.
The initial mock draft sequence is based off Sports Illustrated’s preseason win projections, which can be found in the magazine’s NBA preview.
1. Cavaliers — Anthony Edwards, G, Georgia
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 225 | Age: 18 | Freshman
By my estimation, Edwards is the early answer to the No. 1 pick conundrum, offering the most appealing combination of athleticism, shot-creation, defensive potential and sheer upside. Though far from a finished product, he checks the right boxes from a physical perspective, and possesses the base skills to eventually justify a high-usage backcourt role down the line. His pull-up game and off-dribble scoring continues to improve, and his natural strength and explosiveness are a plus, even if he’s a bit undersized for a two-guard. He shoots jumpers naturally enough to project with optimism, and it helps in all facets that he’ll be one of the younger players in this draft class. Edwards’ passing and decision-making skills are a work in progress, but so long as he can score the ball efficiently and learns the value of shot selection, he’ll have a chance to be quite good, and a legitimate building block worthy of the hype.
As it stands, Cleveland appears likely to pick at or near the top of a guard-heavy draft. If this pick were to fall outside the Top 10, it would convey to the Pelicans (although given the Cavs’ miserable short-term outlook, that’s rather unlikely). After selecting Collin Sexton and Darius Garland with consecutive lottery selections, the Cavs could be headed toward a potentially difficult decision-making juncture when it comes to the question of best-available versus team-building need. For lack of a better solution, we’ll give them Edwards anyway. Whether he ends up going first come June hangs on how convincingly he can sell himself as a future star, which will be tied to the consistency of his play. Georgia will assuredly give him the freedom to make that happen.
2. Knicks — LaMelo Ball, G, Illawarra Hawks
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 180 | Age: 18
If you cut through all the hype and off-court drama that’s surrounded his family, Ball, in a vacuum, possesses a wealth of attractive on-court traits. His size, playmaking feel, jump shooting potential, and capacity to play uptempo gives him a chance to be a high-impact player at the NBA level, with a logical pathway to augmenting a team’s offense with his unique skill set. In a best-case scenario, Ball could become a productive lead guard, with potential to serve as the engine for a high-powered offense as his pull-up game continues to improve. His play, predictably, has been up and down in Australia so far, and accounting for his age, that’s to be expected—the simple fact he’s been productive, and a key part of his team’s offense, means something in itself. Safe to say, teams are monitoring him quite closely, and a respectable body of work in the NBL may legitimize his case as a top selection.
The biggest impediment Ball will face moving forward comes from his lack of plus strength and explosiveness. He’s been able to compensate to this point with a shifty handle and his ability to change speeds, and while his size helps a great deal, Ball still has a ways to go to fully account for his weaknesses at the highest level. Defensively, he might be a sieve. And while fun to watch, it’s unclear how much his freewheeling style of play contributes to winning basketball in a vacuum. Like his older brother Lonzo, LaMelo might project best as an above-average supporting player, rather than as a star who can prop up a successful team by way of his own ability. If we’re comparing the two, LaMelo is a much more scoring-oriented guard, with a natural level of comfort attacking off the dribble and playing in tight spaces that his brother still lacks on some level.
Safe to say, the Knicks’ point guard situation has been one of the more depressing revolving doors in the league for years, and based on their current trajectory, they should have options picking early in the draft.
3. Hornets — James Wiseman, C, Memphis
Height: 7’1” | Weight: 240 | Age: 18 | Freshman
Wiseman enters the season with a relatively defined case as the No. 1 pick, but also with a lot to prove. He essentially went rail to rail as the top-ranked prospect in his high school class, with obvious upside tied to his sheer size, body type, and explosiveness off the floor. There’s no question Wiseman fits in the NBA athletically, and he’s added an impressive amount of muscle over the past year. The elite physical component (he boasts a 7’4.5” measured wingspan and stands 6’11” barefoot) makes him the rare center potentially worth an early-draft investment, particularly given the associated financial commitment. Still, he’ll have to translate those tools into production, and the Tigers will benefit from a rather soft schedule.
Defensively, Wiseman should eventually be impactful, with solid shot-blocking instincts and the ability to cover distance quickly both on the ground and in the air. That alone will earn him meaningful NBA minutes in due time. He could be more Myles Turner than Deandre Ayton. But his offensive skill set is still a work in progress, and his game remains rather left-hand dominant. He tends to play more of a finesse style and fall back on shooting jumpers rather than bang on the interior. While Wiseman isn’t the first blue-chip center to enter college with that type of problem, he must prove he can consistently be a threat to justify many of the shots he takes. It’s also noteworthy that NBA teams continue to question his occasionally dispassionate approach. All that being said, a productive, efficient season can go a long way. And wherever the Hornets pick, acquiring high-end talent should be the prerogative.
4. Grizzlies — Theo Maledon, PG, ASVEL Basket
Height: 6’4” | Weight: 175 | Age: 18
Maledon is arguably the top international-born player in this draft class, coming off a successful 2018-19 season with ASVEL in which he averaged 14.5 points, 4.2 assists and 1.4 steals per 36 minutes and shot 38% from three-point range on 4.3 attempts per game. Those totals are made all the more impressive given he played the entire season as a 17-year-old. Maledon’s size and natural, fluid athleticism coupled with a disciplined approach has helped set him apart at a young age, and he may end up perceived as one of the players with the highest floors in this class. Stylistically, he’s more of a straight-line attacker and ball-screen distributor than someone who’s going to go get a bucket. But coupled with his ability to catch and shoot from outside, multi-positional defensive potential and nice intangibles, Maledon’s all-around game and fast-tracked learning curve all bode well long-term. He’s already part of the French senior national program, and his club team is owned by Tony Parker, who has helped groom him over the past couple of years.
His start to the season has been stunted somewhat by a shoulder injury that’s caused him to miss the past few weeks, but with ASVEL playing in the EuroLeague this season, Maledon will return to myriad high-exposure opportunities at the top level of international play. He’s not overly flashy, but there’s a lot to like. With Ja Morant quite possibly a star at point guard, the Grizzlies might end up in a tricky position drafting in a guard-heavy lottery, but Maledon’s defensive potential and size makes him a more viable fit. It’s worth noting that Memphis’s first-rounder will convey to Boston if it ends up falling outside the top six. And from a value perspective, they might actually be better off losing their pick this season, rather than send an unprotected selection in what presently appears to be a loaded 2021 draft.
5. Suns — Cole Anthony, PG, North Carolina
Height: 6’3” | Weight: 190 | Age: 19 | Freshman
Anthony arrives at North Carolina as arguably the most college-ready freshman in the country, and should be capable of handling heavy responsibility on an overhauled Tar Heels team. While he’s listed generously height-wise, Anthony’s explosiveness and strength has consistently helped him excel as a scorer, and there’s little doubt about his competitive mettle. He’ll put up big numbers by way of high usage, but teams will be watching closely to assess what level of playmaker he really is, and whether he’s the type of point guard you want to orient your franchise around long-term. There are skeptics in league circles when it comes to Anthony’s long-term upside: he’s close to physically mature, will be 20 years old on draft night, and if he doesn’t consistently make teammates better, it might be hard to justify using a top pick on a smaller point guard with a shoot-first style. In his defense, given how good he is already, Anthony at least presents teams with a tangible degree of floor.
Expect a big season from Anthony at UNC, where he’ll be able to get in transition and play downhill with shooting around him. If he can answer questions about his willingness to make plays for others and ability to lead, it will go a long way. His reputation entering college with a reputation is not that of a sterling teammate, and NBA teams will need to better understand his personality before passing judgment. The Suns brought in Ricky Rubio to address their point guard spot for the short-term, but the thought of developing a more well-rounded playmaker next to Devin Booker should be attractive. Anthony’s NBA pedigree (his father is former Knicks guard Greg Anthony) and presumable readiness for the pros should help his case this high.
6. Wizards —R.J. Hampton, G, New Zealand Breakers
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 185 | Age: 18
It’s no secret NBA front offices have prioritized seeing Hampton, as well as LaMelo Ball, in the early weeks of the season. Hampton’s early results as a member of the Breakers have been predictably up and down, but there remains a level of upside in his size, quickness and overall agility on the floor, which allows him to project as more of a versatile combo guard rather than a true point. Hampton is less than a year removed from high school ball and looks the part, with a need to mature physically before he can truly belong on an NBA court. Still, his base athletic tools should play up, and as he adds strength, it should help his ability to finish in the paint and allow him to be more of a threat to score against high-level competition. He’s acquitted himself well enough in the NBL, but a pair of exhibition games against the Grizzles and Thunder delineated how much ground Hampton still has to cover over the next couple of years before making meaningful NBA contributions. He may not end up going this high, but the experience overseas appears it will be positive for his development, regardless.
The more concerning aspect of Hampton’s game at the moment is his in-game jump shooting, as he tends to rush his mechanics under duress, and needs to use this season to find a level of comfort and adjust. Defensively, he’s a total work in progress. Hampton’s serious approach to the game is laudable, but the pro level has not yet fully slowed down for him, and teams will monitor closely to see if he turns a corner. Given he’s played far less high-level basketball than most of the players in this class at this stage, the situation overseas should benefit him in the long-run. Hampton may not profile as a star, but he can certainly develop into a useful player if things break correctly. The Wizards are in asset-accumulation mode and can develop him as a third guard early on.
7. Hawks — Deni Avdija, F, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 210 | Age: 18
Avdija is a polarizing prospect, boasting an unquestionably advanced feel for the game, but also average athleticism that some scouts doubt will play up effectively at the NBA level. He bolstered his reputation in leading Israel to a title over the summer at the Under-20 European Championships, and his competitive juice and skill set as a big, playmaking forward make him an intriguing player. But teams may need to see a respectable base level of production before investing a high lottery pick, particularly given this is Avdija’s first season seeing real playing time with Maccabi’s senior team. His body of work to date and core strengths do offer enough appeal that that the general consensus has him falling somewhere in the lottery.
Although Avdija is a terrific passer, intelligent team defender and has displayed the capacity to initiate offense, it’s fair to wonder whether he has the quickness and handle to do much damage in the halfcourt at the NBA level. His lack of explosiveness hurts him finishing around the basket, and there’s a good deal of polish he still needs as a scorer. He’ll likely be best deployed running pick-and-roll offense in a slower-tempo style, which then raises the question of how consistently he can get downhill. It’s also hard to see how he avoids being picked on defensively. As gifted as he is in transition, and noting some inconsistencies as a jump shooter, if Avdija simply profiles as a playmaking-oriented combo forward (rather than as a full-time guard), the upside is much more limited. He’s been accustomed to a ball-stopping, high-usage role when being featured within his age group, but the odds are it may not be a sustainable long-term job for him. Still his intelligence and drive may be enough to bridge the gap in a different role capacity. He could end up going higher than this, but there are certainly some skeptics around the league, as well.
8. Wolves — Tyrese Maxey, G, Kentucky
Height: 6’3” | Weight: 200 | Age: 18 | Freshman
Many around the industry believe Maxey will end up leading the Wildcats in scoring this season, with a polished floor game and the capacity to threaten defenses at all three levels. Many scouts I spoke with left Kentucky’s pro day most impressed with him, and if he plays to his potential, Maxey may be able elevate himself into this range of the draft. He’s a gifted athlete, naturally strong and coordinated, and enters college with a level of substantive polish most of his peers lack. As long as he shoots it consistently—which his track record suggests he should—a star turn for yet another deep Kentucky team is in order. He takes care of the ball well and has some natural playmaking instincts, two qualities that help him project as an effective combo guard. On top of that, Maxey is a capable on-ball defender, although he’s not overly tall for his position. Given he’s old for his class (he turns 19 next week), and that he’s mature physically, it’s fair to hope for substantial production and a quick college adjustment.
Maxey’s lack of height as a score-first guard does raise some fair questions about the long-term value of a player in his mold at the NBA level. We already know he can score, so essentially, he must prove to teams he’s more than just a bucket-getter to maximize his draft stock. The defensive component would be huge, although you can expect teammate Ashton Hagans to draw the tougher assignments all season. Regardless, Maxey has the ability to play his way into the lottery.
9. Pistons — Killian Hayes, G, Ratiopharm Ulm
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 185 | Age: 18
Another intriguing member of a relatively deep group of international prospects, Hayes was born in the U.S. but grew up in France, where he developed a style of play that, ironically, feels more American than anything else. He’s spending this season playing major minutes at a good level in Germany, and while the results have been modest statistically thus far, Hayes remains a highly intriguing long-term prospect due to his change-of-pace skills, natural instincts, and size (some scouts who’ve seen him recently suggested he now stands closer to 6’6”). He’s a natural passer and carries himself with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Whether he’s a point or a bigger combo, Hayes has the type of skill set that should play up.
Hayes has some creativity to his game that’s hard to teach, and has improved his internal decision-making clock over the past year or so. While not an elite-level athlete, the success of bigger, craft-heavy guards like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leaves some room for optimism that Hayes’ unique traits will lead to long-term success. It’s imperative he develops his right hand and becomes a more consistent three-point shooter, but he’s cut from the type of cloth that holds real appeal as part of a modern, pass-heavy NBA offense. A strong season should put the lottery firmly in play for him. Point guard is Detroit’s biggest long-term question, and there could certainly be a solution in waiting.
10. Magic — Jaden McDaniels, F, Washington
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 200 | Age: 19 | Freshman
Based on his past 12 months, McDaniels shapes up as one of the more boom-or-bust, one-and-done type talents in this class, which is to say that this might end up being an optimistic slot for him, but also that he could end up higher with a huge season. He’s an unusual talent, with natural fluidity as a ball-handler and developing guard skills while also being unnervingly slender in stature. He had an uneven senior high school season despite being old for his class, and his national reputation slipped somewhat as a result. Consistency has not been McDaniels’ strong suit, but he does offer real potential as a big forward who can space the floor and create shots off the bounce. He lacks much of a post game, and functioned essentially as an oversized guard for his high school team. But when he’s on, scoring comes easily to him, and his jumper and face-up skills project to the next level.
Working against McDaniels long-term will be a lack of natural strength and burst, particularly if his skill level doesn’t get to a point where it can compensate for those deficiencies. His tendency to settle for midrange shots is due in part to the issues he has getting all the way to the rim. His body type is similar to that of his brother, Jalen (a second-round pick by the Hornets this year), which is to say, adding meaningful muscle might be a genetic challenge. If NBA teams can stick stronger wings on him, it eliminates the mismatch advantage he’s enjoyed to this point in his career. Still, if McDaniels can fashion himself into something more than simply a ball-stopping scorer, it’s hard to see teams not being intrigued by an oversized jump shooter with a handle. He’s been compared to Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, which makes some degree of sense, although he’s not innately the type of impact defender Isaac is, and he’ll be hidden in Washington’s 2-3 zone this season. It will help that McDaniels competes, possesses a strong feel for the game, and is a willing passer when called upon. He should be an interesting risk-reward play in the lottery.
11. Thunder — Nico Mannion, PG, Arizona
Height: 6’3” | Weight: 190 | Age: 18 | Freshman
Expect Mannion to take quickly to the college game as a player who’s always possessed an advanced degree of polish and floor comprehension. There’s some debate about his long-term upside, but his feel and makeup set him part from most teenage guards, and he’s a skilled playmaker and shooter with the chops to make Arizona relevant again in short order. The son of former NBA journeyman Pace Mannion, Nico is quick off the dribble, fundamentally sound, and has always been innately capable of playing at his own speed and imposing it on defenses. He’s comfortable playing drive-and-kick and using ball screens, and can work his way into the lottery with a big season.
While Mannion has grown to 6’3” and his body has begun to fill out, scouts have understandable questions about how well his game translates athletically at the highest level. His upside is somewhat capped by the fact he’ll never be a physically dominant playmaker. But his savvy and change of speeds has gotten him to this point, and as long as his jump shooting continues to progress well, Mannion should be able to carve out a pro career of some substance. There’s an it factor to his game that has always popped.
12. Kings — Scottie Lewis, G/F, Florida
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 185 | Age: 19 | Freshman
If you had to hone in on one player in this draft whose stock could skyrocket based on the growth of one skill, it would probably be Lewis’s jump shot. Over the past couple years, he’s worked himself into a passable shooter from outside, but he’ll need to get results at the college level to maximize his considerable ability. Lewis is a type-A competitor and elite athlete who shines with his ability to defend multiple positions effectively. That alone puts him on the map, and as he continues to flesh out his skill set as a slasher, Lewis could see his game take off. He turns 20 in March, making him one of the oldest freshmen in the country, but Lewis should make an immediate impact for a good Florida team that will rely on him to be an elite glue guy.
There’s real long-term NBA intrigue here if Lewis can develop his jumper, which isn’t broken, but is still a bit mechanical. His 6’10” wingspan allows him to defend bigger than his height, his effort always seems to be there, and while it’s fair to wonder exactly how efficient he’ll be scoring the ball this season, simply demonstrating an understanding of how to pick his spots and keep defenses honest should leave enough room for optimism. If he gets the jumper down, there’s real upside. The fact Lewis seems to care as much as he does will matter to teams. If the Kings’ pick were to fall outside the first 20 selections, it would convey to the Sixers, but that doesn’t seem likely.
13. Pelicans — Kahlil Whitney, SF, Kentucky
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 210 | Age: 18 | Freshman
Whitney is already an NBA-caliber athlete, with a well-muscled body type somewhat reminiscent of Jaylen Brown at Cal, and a vaguely similar set of strengths, albeit without the same degree of polish. The fact that Whitney is an adequately-sized wing with potential to ably defend the league’s most dangerous perimeter scorers makes him a player of note in this class, even though his overall floor game is a work in progress. He has the length and agility to keep up with opponents of different sizes, and his explosiveness off the ground will be tantalizing for scouts. He’ll play a lot for Kentucky, and have a chance to showcase that upside. Expect some bumps along the way, as he’s not much of a playmaker and has struggled taking care of the ball in the past. But the overall package here is one we’ve seen before, and usually one that translates to first-round draft position, as a baseline.
14. Mavericks — Isaiah Stewart, C, Washington
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 250 | Age: 18 | Freshman
There’s a good deal to like about Stewart from a standpoint of production and on-court intangibles—he plays with passion, gobbles up rebounds, has developed some touch on his jump shot, and has completely reworked his body over the past couple years, turning himself into one of the best players in his class. What’s still unclear is to what degree his game translates at the NBA level, given he can still be more or less considered a below-the-basket five-man. He’s likely to have a strong year at Washington, and his defensive mobility (or lack thereof) will be somewhat veiled inside the Huskies’ zone, which makes him an intriguing eval in the college setting. It’s fairly clear that Stewart should at least be a competent, high-energy interior player, and if he can add value in other ways, taking him in this range might make sense for someone.
15. Bulls — Wendell Moore, G/F, Duke
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 215 | Age: 18 | Freshman
Moore is Duke’s most intriguing long-term prospect, with a strong physical profile on the wing and a nice level of upside, particularly on the defensive end. He’s long (he’s been measured with a 7-foot wingspan), strong, and can defend multiple positions, making him a potentially valuable commodity and first-round type talent at this early stage. Moore lacks polish offensively, and his jump shot has a ways to go, but given that he just turned 18 in September, he’s the type of blank-slate athlete teams like to talk themselves into as a viable project. He’s rangy on defense and will likely be given a lot of responsibility on that end. He also has some legitimate guard skills, having spent time bringing the ball up for his high school team and demonstrating an above-average feel. Moore will get plenty of playing time this season, and how efficient he can be offensively will be a key determinant on whether he truly profiles as a one-and-done. For now, an optimistic projection lands him in this range.
16. Heat — Isaiah Joe, SG, Arkansas
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 180 | Age: 20 | Sophomore
Joe was quietly one of the best outside shooters in the country last season, attempting a whopping eight threes per game and hitting them at a 41.4% clip. Those numbers alone for a true freshman playing at a high college level are overwhelming, and his quick, pretty mechanics back up that success. There should be little question that the stroke will translate, and his first-round case as a potential high-end specialist should be rather obvious, noting the league-wide premium on shooting. He’s deft at creating space for himself away from the ball and setting his feet in time to get off good looks, and has shown flashes of creating his own shot off of stepbacks and decisive off-dribble moves. Whether or not Joe’s numbers dip in a more featured role this season should be interesting to track, but the Razorbacks intend to run and gun under Eric Musselman—if anything, we could (and perhaps should) see Joe attempting even more threes this season. He’s also a smart defender, and whatever else he can add to his game is gravy. Right now, he needs to add strength and can’t do much in the way of getting downhill. Still, Joe is a potentially elite NBA shooter laying around in plain sight. It’s worth noting that this Nets pick is lottery-protected, but will otherwise convey to Atlanta.
17. Raptors — Tyrese Haliburton, G, Iowa State
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 175 | Age: 19 | Sophomore
Haliburton has a clear opportunity to make a leap, taking on lead ball-handling role for the Cyclones, who had several of their top perimeter players depart for the pros. Despite the fact his role was highly limited as a freshman, he was a decisive passer, disruptive perimeter defender, and drained his open threes at a nice clip. He was a central part of Iowa State’s success, but also came with some obvious warts, most of which stemmed from either an unwillingness or inability to attack off the dribble. The Cyclones’ staff is encouraging Haliburton to play aggressively, and he showed an expanded offensive game playing point guard for a gold medal-winning USA U-19 team at the world championships. There are still plenty of skeptics around the league who note his thin body type and question his ability to get to a somewhat unorthodox set jumper—both justifiable concerns that may cap Haliburton’s star upside. But what’s clear is that he could be uniquely equipped as a quality role player in an uptempo offense, and that his brain is far and away his best tool. He would have had a first-round case had he tested the waters in 2018, and should be able to make good on it this time around.
18. Hawks (via Nets) —Jahmi’us Ramsey, G, Texas Tech
Height: 6’4” | Weight: 195 | Age: 18 | Freshman
With a sculpted frame, broad shoulders and a downhill, attack-minded style of play, Ramsey is among the most intriguing guard prospects in the freshman class, with potential to make a real impact on both sides of the ball. He’s a plus athlete with great strength and deceptive quickness for someone his size, and has a great opportunity to shine at Texas Tech, as part of one of college basketball’s top defensive schemes and a program that’s produced first-round picks in consecutive drafts (Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver). Ramsey would appear to be next up, as scouts start to fall in love with his physical tools and toughness. He continues to develop his three-point shot, and if he can score the ball efficiently and add some secondary playmaking, he should be able to spend time at both guard spots and offer some substantive versatility at the next level. He’s walking into a big role out of the gate, and the one-and-done potential is clear.
19. Bucks (via Pacers) — Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, F/C, Villanova
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 230 | Age: 18 | Freshman
Although Villanova rarely produces one-and-done players, some around the league expect Robinson-Earl might force the issue with his play. His versatility and intelligent approach makes him an intriguing modern-day big, with strong passing skills, shooting touch out to the arc, and a good understanding of his own role. Robinson-Earl is a decent but not elite athlete in the run/jump sense, but his potential on-court value transcends the box score, which is why the hype has understandably been minimal (although, to be fair, he was voted Big East Preseason Freshman of the Year). But he has plenty of room to refine his offensive skills, enters college ready-made for important minutes, and has a nice opportunity to make his stay in college a short one. Robinson-Earl’s floor will be extremely appealing, and his game has enough nuance and his intangibles strong in enough to sell teams. He turns 19 in a few days. The Pacers’ selection is lottery-protected and will go to the Bucks only if Indiana makes the playoffs. Granted, that scenario looks rather tenuous in the earlygoing.
20. Spurs — Jalen Smith, C, Maryland
Height: 6’10” | Weight: 215 | Age: 19 | Sophomore
There’s plenty of value to be had in unearthing bigs who can hit threes, protect the basket, and move their feet reasonably well. Smith has a chance to check all three boxes, and remains well-regarded in the minds of optimistic scouts on the heels of an inconsistent freshman year. He’s an obvious breakout candidate, pending improvement on his jumper, and it stands to reason his coordination may improve as he matures physically and grows more accustomed to his gangly frame. In theory, Maryland should place added emphasis on featuring him this season, and after averaging a double double per-40 last time around, Smith could scrape that type of production if he turns the corner. He should be one of the more appealing five-men in this class if all goes well.
21. Nets (via Warriors) — Amar Sylla, F/C, Oostende
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 190 | Age: 18
From a physical perspective, Sylla looks like one of the more intriguing projects in this draft class, with a measured 7’3” wingspan and potentially elite mobility as a modern big. The Senegalese forward appears extremely light on his feet, can really run the floor, and is an explosive leaper. It’s easy to project him as a switchable, versatile defender, which can add extreme value in the frontcourt. He remains a work in progress offensively, but Sylla’s game is face-up oriented, with a passable jumper, passing instincts, and the capacity to attack the rim off one dribble. It’s going to take time, but calling him raw would be a mischaracterization, as he’s spent three years developing with Real Madrid, and will play this season in Belgium before presumably entering the draft. Sylla has obvious upside as his body fills out, and has a good chance to hear his name called in the first round if his season goes according to plan.
22. Celtics — Ayo Dosunmu, G, Illinois
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 185 | Age: 19 | Sophomore
Expect a leap in production from Dosunmu after a solid freshman season, with Illinois hoping to return to the NCAA tournament and relying on him to make plays. His size, composure on the ball and ability to defend both guard spots create some role-player potential at the next level as he matures. He defends with energy and might be able to make his living on that end if things break correctly. Dosunmu shot a respectable 35.2% on 5.7 three-point attempts per game last season, but will have to prove that number is for real, as jump shooting hasn’t been his strength, and his all-around efficiency could be better. He’s deceptively athletic off the drive and doesn’t take too many bad shots, leaving some upside as he figures out where his points come from. If Dosunmu takes a leap offensively, he should be able to play his way into the first round. If this pick, dealt as part of the Kevin Durant-D’Angelo Russell swap, falls inside the Top 20, the Warriors get to keep it. So far, that’s looked like a distinct possibility.
23. Blazers — Patrick Williams, G/F, Florida State
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 225 | Age: 18 | Freshman
Williams is another potentially viable one-and-done candidate, as a long, athletic wing and above-average shooter, rebounder, and defender at his position. He should be a key piece for Florida State, and has the type of skill set that fits in neatly just about anywhere, although he’s best conceptualized as a possible high-level role player and lineup cog due to an underdeveloped handle and limited creation skills. Williams can play above the rim, and his jumper in particular projects nicely — there’s untapped upside if he can put his tools to better use attacking closeouts and finishing at the basket. He’ll fit nicely in the Seminoles’ balanced scheme, and has intrigue as a 3-and-D type and one of the younger prospects in the class. Williams has a relatively clear pathway to NBA utility if he stays on track.
24. Lakers — Josh Green, G/F, Arizona
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 210 | Age: 18 | Freshman
Green joins Nico Mannion in Tuscon to give the Wildcats a pair of legit NBA prospects, and while his stock has come back to earth after a strong showing at Basketball Without Borders in 2018, he’s a well-rounded wing and elite run-jump athlete who could be a useful glue guy at the next level. The Australian native will likely have to make his money on defense, where his length and physicality could make a difference, and where he’s shown a commitment to being a stopper in the past. To maximize his potential on the other end, his offense needs to improve in all facets, including cleaning up a somewhat basic handle and demonstrating consistency as a jump shooter. Green has a decent feel and should be able to finish plays, but if he can’t generate offense for himself or others, some of his upside will be capped. Still, there are worse fates than being perceived as an extremely athletic three-and-D wing, and if he can simply do those things, Green has a pathway to success at the NBA level.
While we’re here, it may be worth noting that the title-hungry Lakers cannot currently trade their 2020 first-round pick, given that their 2021 pick conditionally belongs to New Orleans. (Due to league rules, they can only trade it on draft night
25. Rockets — Jordan Nwora, F, Louisville
Height: 6’7” | Weight: 220 | Age: 21 | Junior
Returning to Louisville after an injury hampered his predraft process, Nwora remains an intriguing catch-and-shoot prospect who should be able to space the floor from either forward spot. He’s a solid rebounder and has become a more unselfish, skilled player in the past year, and should be able to score the ball capably if he stays on track. To solidify his stock, Nwora’s will have to improve defensively, where he may never be fleet enough of foot to defend quicker wings, but he has enough size to work toward being passable within a team context. Another strong season should be in store for him, and his shot-making and size should make him a viable option in this part of the draft.
26. Jazz — Precious Achiuwa, F, Memphis
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 225 | Age: 20 | Freshman
Achiuwa has intrigued scouts with his size and physical tools, capable of theoretically defending both forward spots. But because of his limited offensive skill set, he’s probably best off playing the four in the pros. Achiuwa is in position to be productive for Memphis, given the fact he generally plays hard and the athletic advantage he’ll enjoy in college, but his ballhandling skills are limited and are part of what often prevents him from attacking all the way to the basket. He must continue developing as a shooter and refine his decision-making skills to have a chance at being an impactful pro. It’s hard to see him being overly efficient this season, as things stand, but there’s still some upside tied to his athletic ability. But given the fact he’s already 20 years old and he’s not as college-ready as many of his younger peers, it’s tricky to pencil Achiuwa in any higher than this for the time being. Also of note: if the Jazz miss the playoffs and their pick falls between Nos. 8 and 14, it will convey to Memphis as part of the Mike Conley trade.
27. Nets (via Sixers) — Xavier Tillman, F/C, Michigan State
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 245 | Age: 20 | Junior
Tillman was quietly one of the most consistent, productive players in the country, taking over as a starter to close the season and driving the Spartans with his rebounding and finishing around the rim. He’s probably somewhat underappreciated, but the advanced stats make a strong case for him, and he’ll presumably see an uptick in minutes and prove even more valuable for Michigan State this season. Tillman is unflashy, but has a way of filling up a box score, and it’s reasonable to think his energy, smarts, and talent will translate into a role somewhere, and early-career utility. He’s developing touch out to the three-point line, and if he gets that down, it’ll open up a lot for him as a prospect. The Sixers’ pick will convey to the Nets if it falls outside the lottery.
28. Clippers — Obi Toppin, F/C, Dayton
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 210 | Age: 21 | Sophomore
Toppin was one of the better college players at the Nike Academy in August, showcasing a strong understanding of his role and an effective inside-out game that makes him an intriguing player to track this season. He was highly productive on the glass and as a scorer while working his way into big minutes last season, and while there’s not a great deal of upside involved here, physical, athletic bigs who can step out beyond the arc make for attractive investments in this range — on some level, you can’t have too many of those guys. He could be in for a breakout season at Dayton, and can play his way into the first round.
29. Thunder (via Nuggets) — Ashton Hagans, PG, Kentucky
Height: 6’3” | Weight: 190 | Age: 20 | Sophomore
Although Hagans’ only true NBA skill at this stage is his on-ball defense, his impressive tenacity and knack for forcing turnovers and applying pressure gives him a pathway to discovering a role in the pros. He’s not a good jump shooter, instead relying on change of pace to get into the teeth of the defense and either kick or finish. Hagans will be asked to step up and lead Kentucky this season, and any strides he makes offensively should make him more viable as a Top 40-type draft pick. His shot, however, could be a glaring weakness that holds him back. Denver’s pick is Top-10 protected, and very likely to convey to Oklahoma City this season.
30. Celtics (via Bucks) — Cassius Winston, PG, Michigan State
Height: 6’1” | Weight: 185 | Age: 21 | Senior
While Winston will never be a guy who passes the eye test, with a short, squat build that can obscure just how good a player he is, there’s little question that his natural playmaking skills and ability to run a team are NBA-caliber. There’s going to be split opinion based on his below-average athleticism and likely defensive struggles, but Winston can make every pass, plays with a special type of confidence, and has a good chance to be an undervalued but useful selection for someone in the middle of the draft, as someone who can run a second unit comfortably and make his teammates better. Winston doesn’t need to win National Player of the Year to deserve late first-round consideration. Milwaukee’s pick is top-seven protected, and highly likely to convey to Boston.